At age 48 in 2016, Tortora was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. The official diagnosis for the Tennessee actor and musician was invasive ductal carcinoma, which was low-grade and estrogen receptor-positive. This meant her prognosis was good.
She had a lumpectomy to remove a tumor in her left breast, as well as three lymph nodes. The margins around the tumor were clean, and the lymph nodes were cancer-free. So she and her doctor decided not to do chemotherapy.
Her treatment included 6 weeks of radiation and 5 years of hormone therapy. She also went to physical therapy for mild lymphedema and saw a nutritionist for dietary advice. Afterward, her chances of recurrence over 10 years were a low 4%. Great news!
So what did she learn from having cancer? “That it's important to truly prioritize and take care of myself physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally,” she says. “That I can receive care from others, rather than always being the caregiver. And that this gift of life can be as rich as we make it. My perspective on what is important, how I want to spend my time, who I want to spend it with, and what really matters all became very clear. Of course, we all know cancer is a frightening diagnosis, but it can also bring a lot of positive changes in perspective and relationships, if we allow that to happen.”
Today, Tortora is working on a podcast and a book for young people focused on mental health issues.
Anita Johnson, MD
As chief of surgery for City of Hope Atlanta, Johnson is a pioneer of life-saving innovations at the comprehensive cancer treatment center. She has more than 20 years of experience, with a record of being the first surgeon in Atlanta to perform new procedures such as intraoperative radiation therapy and nipple-sparing mastectomies.
As director of breast oncology at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), she’s a leader in the latest surgical techniques, including minimally invasive breast biopsies. A graduate of the Morehouse School of Medicine, she also works to lower the costs of overall cancer care.
Suchita Pakkala, MD
Based in Atlanta, Pakkala specializes in treating breast cancer. She's a hematologist/medical oncologist and an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine, with more than 20 years of experience.